UPDATE: The agreement announced today with Enbridge also included a (sort of) apology from the Canadian oil company. In a statement, the company insisted that the Line 5 section of pipeline in the Mackinac straits remains “in good shape and is fit for service,” despite the degradation of the safety coatings.
With a binding agreement with the state that represents a bit of a tail-between-the-legs pact by the beleaguered oil company, here’s a synopsis of what Enbridge had to say:
We realize our internal technical studies and understanding haven’t translated well into reassuring the public or Michigan leaders about the ongoing safe operation of Line 5. We apologize if our actions sometimes have created confusion.
Many Michiganders have joined Gov. Snyder in expressing, with increasing frequency, concerns regarding the safety of Line 5 in the Straits. Enbridge not only is hearing those concerns, we are listening. Most important, we are taking actions to address these concerns.
… Trust is earned, and while we have a long way to go, we remain committed to doing what it takes to rebuild trust and uphold our pledge to protect the environment while safely meeting Michigan’s energy needs.
Meanwhile, an environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters of Michigan, blasted the agreement as negotiated promises from Enbridge to limit the risks of an oil spill, rather than closing down Line 5.
In a multi-faceted agreement signed by Gov. Rick Snyder today, the state will require the Enbridge oil company to replace its pipeline in the St. Clair River – the final section of Line 5 – with a new pipe that will be encased in a tunnel under the river bed.
Because of the fast flow of the St. Clair River and the close proximity of a dozen drinking water intakes in the area, just south of Port Huron, some officials and experts believe that the section of Line 5 in the St. Clair, plus other threats to the southeast Michigan waterways, are nearly as hazardous as the Line 5 portion in the Mackinac straits.
In a press release, the governor’s office said that Enbridge acknowledges that the St. Clair River lies within an “environmentally sensitive” location along the pipeline and the underground replacement line will significantly lower the risk that oil could reach the river or the Great Lakes.
“Business as usual by Enbridge is not acceptable and we are going to ensure the highest level of environmental safety standards are implemented to protect one of Michigan’s most valuable natural resources,” Snyder said. “The items required in this agreement are good strides forward. The state is evaluating the entire span of Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline and its future, but we cannot wait for the analyses to be completed before taking action to defend our waterways.”
Enbridge completed a similar replacement of its Line 6B several years ago under the same stretch of the St. Clair River, where about three dozen oil and hazardous materials pipelines cross into Canada’s Sarnia numerous refineries and chemical plants. That portion of Line 6B was found to have a kink, a defect that the Canadian company initially dismissed as insignificant.
After receiving pressure from Congress, the company replaced the entire 3,500-foot section below the water and placed a new pipeline in a tunnel constructed underneath the river bottom.
Line 6B is the same Enbridge oil line that ruptured the line that ruptured in 2010 near Kalamazoo, creating the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.
The binding agreement with Enbridge announced this morning also addresses the dual pipelines of the Line 5 section under the Mackinac straits, which is plagued with deteriorating and crumbling safety coatings. Enbridge has agreed to halt the 540,000 barrels per day oil flow through the 64-year-old pipes at Mackinac when severe weather occurs, which could make containing an oil spill much more difficult.
The company, in conjunction with the Snyder administration, will also study the prospects of tunneling under the straits and installing replacement pipelines below ground.
Enbridge has been under fire from several top state officials for many months as Line 5’s deficiencies become obvious, even as the company has claimed otherwise.
“Tunneling under the St. Clair River and shutting down Line 5 during adverse weather are promising first steps in safeguarding our waterways,” said Valerie Brader, executive director of the Michigan Agency for Energy. “The assessment of all the options in the agreement should be done thoroughly, but quickly, so that we can move forward with additional concrete actions all along the pipeline.”
The agreement includes deadlines for each action. The state will hire its own experts to monitor Enbridge’s actions and review and verify the company’s data. The agreement requires the company to cooperatively identify and make available to the state relevant information regarding the operation of Line 5. The full agreement can be found on the Pipeline Safety Advisory Board website.
Photo (Wikimedia): Some 62 oil refineries and petrochemical plants are located in Sarnia, Ontario, on the St. Clair River, where Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline ends.